Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom… not of this age... But… a secret and hidden wisdom of God… decreed before the ages for our glorification… (vv. 6, 7).
Drawing disciples to himself, Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). Then he withdrew from the madding crowds to teach the disciples, “impart[ing] a secret and hidden wisdom of God”. This is the Sermon on the Mount.
Fallen mankind is bereft of the HS, only able to discern a wisdom of the world. Jesus began imparting spiritual Beatitudes, touchstones of repentance, confession, and faith to receive his Torah teaching.
His first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the reign and rule of heaven” (5:3) shares the same end within the conclusion, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the reign and rule of heaven” (v. 10). Enclosed by “heaven’s reign and rule” Jesus anticipates the church’s baptismal poverty into his death and righteous rising to new life.
The Beatitudes orient the church in a new self-understanding of unity with Jesus’ mission as Suffering Servant and Son of God for life of the world. Thus, Jesus taught the church’s apostolic comprehension of Scripture, a new wisdom (Mt. 28:20).
So, what is our concern on this 5th Sunday after the Epiphany? Jesus gravely warns, “[U]nless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).
Many “Christians”, Esau-like, only marginally value their baptismal birthright and blessing for the Kingdom (Gen. 27). Our fleshly nature is at war with Christ’s call to “spiritual poverty” and “persecution”. Thus, Jesus warns against a “righteousness” exhibited by the hyper-religious scribes and Pharisees, ancient or modern, who ignore God’s expectations of grace and mercy;
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free?... Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him?... Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…” (Isa. 58:6-8a).
When one approaches Scripture apart from the church’s new apostolic wisdom then conflicted hypocrisy endangers. The scribes were experts of the Law and Prophets; not surprisingly archetypes of those we today identify as “legalists” who confuse law and gospel distorting God’s heart, visage, and revelation among men.
The Pharisees’ were “separated ones” or “righteous ones” practicing a visible “righteousness” of obedience to the legal particulars of Moses; but their hearts were far from the intended “fast” of God. Their religious outlook was, of course, more subtle; but you get the idea, the scribes and Pharisees possessed a kind of “righteousness” or “fasting” that did not reflect God’s word, and so not “heard on high” (v. 4).
But Jesus taught a different wisdom; how his church would understand and give voice to God’s word; a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them… not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17, 18).
Jesus, Son and Servant of God is the OT’s singular referent. This is “the secret and hidden wisdom of God…” studied and comprehended in the NT church through the power of Baptism and Beatitude by the HS.
It is Jesus’ Baptism completed at the cross; his passion and death fulfilling all the Law and Prophets. From the moment Jesus handed-over the HS from the cross, all the Old Covenant promises of God and of Israel (Ex. 19:5, 6, 8) were completed (Jn. 19:30); every “iota” and “dot” for a new wisdom to comprehend Scripture in light of the Resurrection.
Without God’s new spiritual wisdom St. Paul comments: because Jews demand signs beyond the witness from JB, Scripture to them is a dark book; because Greeks seek sophisticated “word-logos”, their “wisdom” has discarded faith (1 Cor. 1:22, 23); and both lose birthright and blessing.
Today’s scribes and Pharisees, whether neo-evangelical Protestants, the multitude of denominations, or doubting critical scholastics can hardly find reference to Jesus in the OT Scriptures, and most deny Jesus’ teaching of the gospel by his sacraments; instead trusting in “good works” for their assurance of salvation; how sad!
Still the OT Scriptures are not abandoned; rather they are reinterpreted and understood by wisdom from God, finding meaning in the NT crucified flesh of Christ; that all who look on his atoning work might have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-16; Num. 21:8, 9). This is the righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees who refuse to look and see.
By Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection we receive the HS, “that we might understand the things freely given us by God…in words… interpreting spiritual truths...” (1 Cor. 2:12b, 13).
It is a scribal and pharisaic mentality that believes we may engage the Law and Prophets apart from Christ who has made Scripture new. Next Sunday Jesus reveals himself as Torah’s Teacher, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” (Mt. 5:27a, 28a).
On the Mount Jesus describes his church, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13a, 14a). In the OT, God commanded Israel to salt its peace-grain offerings, provisioning his priests for the “salt of the covenant with your God” (Lev. 2:13).
Today the church understands Jesus, “You are the salt of the earth” by the lens of priestly poverty of spirit and persecution; and partake of the church’s Bread in union with her High Priest.
The church’s wisdom discerns Christ the “Salt of the New Covenant”. Jesus, before his Ascension, participated in a meal with his Apostles, described in the Greek, “while sharing salt with them” (Acts 1:4). He who is the church’s peace-grain offering (Jn. 12:24) in fellowship with his priesthood of believers is the One who salts our Eucharistic loaf for work in the world.
Jesus is “the Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), declaring his church in beatific power “You are the light of the world.” Our reflected light certainly exhibits “good works” glorifying God; but more, the church’s preaching directs all to, “Solus Christus”. Amen.